Winter 2002/2003

Nice Hat. Thanks.

Nice Hat. Thanks.

Joshua Beckman and Matthew Rohrer

Verse Press ($10)

by Jen Bervin

When Joshua Beckman and Matthew Rohrer read together at the St. George Poetry Festival in September, they asked the audience to provide topics for improvised poems. Amid anticipatory silence that crackled with palpable energy, they took turns meting out a single word (or line, according to the chosen constraint) into the microphone. Even if some of the impromptu poems missed the mark, the experiment provided a valuable template by which to read their similarly composed book, Nice Hat. Thanks.-a silence in which words flail, becoming urgent and surprisingly funny. Sounded out piece by shiny, sudden piece, the poems sound and feel nomadic; they wander deliciously, probe curiously, then unpredictably turn on a heel (pardon the pun):

Choose me,
little shoe.

The tight parameter of the compositional restraint (alternating words or lines) combined with a pre-determined number of lines (two through five) exerts an interesting pressure on the short poems, particularly when a penchant for symmetry is thrown into the mix. Less satisfying are the "long" poems (poems exceeding five lines) which become slack in almost direct proportion to their length. Perhaps this demonstrates the outer limit of the experiment. Overall, their method is winning because it is manipulated with dexterity and aplomb by two nimble poets with a spry sense of humor and a refreshing willingness to set aside their artistic egos. There is little likeness between the collaborative poems and the work Beckman and Rohrer have published separately. I believe the authors when they write, "Our method turned us into another guy."

It's evident that pleasure is one of the guiding principles in Nice Hat. Thanks. The authors seem to enjoy life immensely, and enjoy writing about it too. Mischievous, sexy poems reminiscent of Catullus crop up:

I'll follow the girl now
and offer her peanuts
and wear out her pockets
I'll follow the girl now

Some of the humor veers toward the wicked: "Marty come back, / the hole is bigger." Pleasingly strange poems stay conceivably close to the realm of possibility, with smart flourishes: "That girl's doll / eats rice / from that girl's hand. // It was designed / well."

In prose that is wonderfully lean, simple, and suggestive, the authors call a spade a spade: "I was cleaning / when I realized you had made me do it /with your horrible nuance / I was cleaning". They weigh in (lightly) on the state of the environment ("2002. Still more trees than people, / and more water than trees"), political rhetoric ("America wins / every time/ a bird dies"), and New York ("I love New York / more than you, /buddy. // Take that shirt / back to Jersey"). The book was written throughout the five boroughs; it's peopled with overtaxed New Yorkers ("We're busy. / We're happy. / We're utterly pale"), and fueled by the city's youthful exuberance: "Light coming down from that divine cloud we call New York turned us on... Dreams begin in New York and today we are in New York." Amen to that, gentlemen. Carry on.

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Winter 2002/2003 Table of Contents